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Gambling is an activity where people stake something valuable against the hope of winning a prize. People can gamble on sports, bingo, lottery games, scratch cards, casino games and more. Gambling is popular in casinos and other establishments, but it can also take place at gas stations, restaurants, religious services, on television or the Internet. When gambling becomes problematic, it may cause harm to a person’s health, finances and relationships. It is important to recognise the signs of gambling addiction, so that you can help a friend or family member seek treatment.

Gambling can lead to addiction, financial loss, depression and other psychological problems. It can also damage a person’s work performance, personal life and health. The good news is that many people who gamble do so responsibly. However, a small number of people are unable to control their gambling and can become seriously addicted. This can have a negative impact on their lives, their families and the wider community.

Understanding of gambling addiction has undergone a significant change over the years, with an increasing recognition that it is a serious mental illness. This shift in perception has been accompanied by the development of new diagnostic criteria for gambling disorder in the DSM-IV, and the introduction of specific treatment interventions, such as self-help groups, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and medication.

Most gamblers are motivated by a desire to win money, but for some it is about social interaction and the ability to satisfy basic human needs. A sense of belonging is one such need. It is common for problem gamblers to feel a sense of disconnection and loneliness, which they try to overcome by seeking status or a feeling of specialness. This is a fundamental theme of casino culture, where people are made to feel special through elaborate marketing and rewards programs.

Those who gamble for fun can be affected negatively by the stress of losing money, but they can also experience positive emotions, such as excitement and thrill. Unlike drugs, which have direct effects on the brain and body, gambling causes indirect psychological and emotional impacts, but the effect of the game can be long-lasting, even after a person has stopped playing.

Research has focused primarily on economic costs and benefits, which are relatively easy to measure. It has neglected social impacts, which are non-monetary and often difficult to quantify, but which can have a large influence on the gambler’s quality of life. According to Williams and Walker, social impacts should be defined as ‘costs or benefits that aggregate societal real wealth and are not necessarily personal to the gambler’. This conceptual model offers a base on which to start building a common methodology for assessing gambling’s impact on the society, which has been largely overlooked in calculations of gambling’s cost-benefits. Social impacts are therefore a key target of future research in this field.